Fort Lewis (detention facility)

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US Gov Name Fort Lewis Internment Camp
Facility Type U.S. Army Internment Camp
Administrative Agency U.S. Army
Location Fort Lewis, Washington (47.1333 lat, -122.4833 lng)
Date Opened 1942
Date Closed March 30, 1943
Population Description Held people of Japanese descent from Alaska and the mainland U.S.; also held German and Italian nationals.
General Description Located within Fort Lewis Army Base, 17 miles south of Tacoma, Washington.
Peak Population 42 (1942-05-04)
National Park Service Info

Army base near Tacoma, Washington, at which a small number of Japanese Americans—most from Alaska—were briefly interned in 1942.

Established as "Camp Lewis" in 1917, the base was named after Meriwether Lewis of the fabled Lewis & Clark expedition. It became "Fort Lewis" in 1927. Some 37,000 soldiers were housed there in the spring of 1941, including many Japanese Americans from the Pacific Northwest who had enlisted or had been drafted. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Nisei at Fort Lewis were disarmed and assigned menial work. Many eventually later joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team or Military Intelligence Service . [1]

Some number of Issei men from Alaska were temporarily held at Fort Lewis in 1942. Tetsuden Kashima writes that fifty-five such internees were sent to Fort Lewis, with all but four sent on to Fort Sam Houston. Issei Journalist and internee Yasutaro Soga writes in his memoir that the number was eighty-six, who joined five Issei from the Pacific Northwest who were already being held at Fort Lewis. Soga writes that the group left Alaska on April 27 and May 4 and left Fort Lewis on May 19 for Fort Sam Houston , meaning that they were held at Fort Lewis for somewhere around two to three weeks. Later, starting in July 1943, POW compounds held German and Italian prisoners. [2]

Fort Lewis became Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2010 when Fort Lewis merged with McChord Air Force Base and is still in use. [3]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. Duane Colt Denfield, "Fort Lewis, Part 2: 1927–2010," History, Apr. 18, 2008, and "History," Joint Base Lewis-McChord website , both accessed on May 26, 2020; Duncan Ryūken Williams, American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2019), 169. The Densho Digital Repository includes many interviews with Japanese Americans who trained at Fort Lewis including Hikaru Morohashi ( ), Hiro Nishimura ( ), Sam H. Ono ( ), Joe Saito ( ), and Harvey Watanabe ( ).
  2. Tetsuden Kashima, Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 91; Yasutaro [Keiho] Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai'i Issei , translated by Kihei Hirai (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008), 83–84; Denfield, "Fort Lewis, Part 2: 1927–2010."
  3. "History," Joint Base Lewis-McChord website.

Last updated July 6, 2021, 9:31 p.m..